Prepping Papyri

Quite a bit has been written on this blog over the years about caring for Duke’s sizable papyri collection, so many of our readers will be familiar. For those who may not know about it, the collection was digitally imaged back in the early 1990s and the images are publicly available for research. The Duke Papyrus Archive is a very helpful and well-used resource, but sometimes we get requests to reimage fragments from the collection. It may be that the resolution of the images in the archive is too low for a researcher’s needs, or there is a request to use multispectral imaging to see if additional information can be made legible.

P.Duk.inv 362: Lease of land, 2nd century B.C. Extracted from mummy cartonnage.

As we have mentioned before, each papyrus fragment is stored between two pieces of glass, which are taped around the edges. This housing solution allows the extremely fragile fragments to be safely and easily handled in the reading room, but it does pose some challenges for imaging. Our digital production staff are able to adjust the lighting environment to reduce reflections from the glass, but the glazing package also needs to be very clean both inside and out. Any dust, stray fibers, or residue are clearly visible in the high resolution images we produce. Prior to reimaging, each fragment is examined to determine if any cleaning or additional intervention is required.

Some of the taping on the glass packages is starting to show some wear and tear. White paper tape was used to seal the glazing for many of the fragments and the adhesive may have become desiccated and failed, or the paper carrier may be splitting. Sharp glass corners or edges may also be untaped and exposed.

Re-imaging is a good opportunity to remove the fragment from its glazing, clean the package, remount the fragment, and reseal the package with higher quality materials. The process is pretty straightforward. To begin, the tape is sliced open on all edges with a scalpel and the top piece of glass is carefully lifted away.

Next the papyrus fragment is removed by very gently sliding it off of the bottom glass sheet onto a piece of clean Bristol board. The surface of the board is very smooth, so papyrus fibers along the edge of the fragments do not catch. The fragment may actually be composed of several loose pieces, so I always do a few little test lifts at the edges of the piece with a microspatula first to get a sense of the fragment’s condition. Luckily, this fragment is all in one piece. I like to note the orientation of the fragment in pencil at the corner of the board, just as a reminder when I go to reassemble the package. The fragment is placed in a temporary enclosure for safety and set aside.

The adhesive of the paper tape is water-soluble and comes off of the glass pretty easily. After mechanically scraping off the tape carrier with a scalpel blade, the glass is placed in small plastic tray filled with filtered water so that any remaining residue will soften and can be scrubbed off. I finish cleaning the glass with a 1:1 ethanol and deionized water solution and buff the surface with a cotton pad. To keep it as clean as possible it’s important to clean any working surfaces beforehand and wear gloves.

Before and After Cleaning

With the glass clean and dry, it’s time to transfer the papyrus fragment back. The papyrus fragment is aligned on the lower glass and secured to it using very small pieces of pre-made remoistenable repair tissue (see Baker 2010 for instructions on making the remoistenable paper). When the mounting strips are dry, the upper sheet of glass is placed on top and the edges are taped with Filmoplast SH linen tape. I like to double-up the taping at the corners of the package to ensure that every edge is completely covered.

In the years before the Rubenstein Library renovation, these glass packages were rehoused in uniform rigid portfolios with cut foam padding. Each portfolio has a picture label and small groups of them are stored together in metal edge boxes for easy retrieval. You can see images and read about that rehousing project here. These portfolios are still functioning very well, so the cleaned and retaped glazing package is placed back in it’s custom portfolio and box before being transferred to the digital production center.

The Inside Scoop: Working Across Campus

I’ve started a new schedule that includes working at least one day a week at the Smith Warehouse.  This beautiful building is where Duke Libraries Technical Services (except Conservation) and the Rubenstein Library Technical Services divisions are located. Working at Smith allows me to  answer questions and solve problems in between our bi-monthly scheduled visits to Rubenstein Technical Services.

It’s also nice to see people in person, and to be more present with this side of the library. Technical services can often feel overlooked because it is literally behind the scenes and in another building than the main library. But books wouldn’t get to the shelf without the hard working tech services staff!

What do you do over at Smith?

Today I got a note about pests in Rubenstein Technical Services. While there I looked at some collection materials that had complicated housing needs, downloaded environmental data, and sorted through some circulating materials that I sent back from Conservation. Of course no day as a middle manager is complete without at least one meeting so I attended that.

My work days at Smith allow me to focus on our documentation including updating our collections disaster plan, and writing new  workflow documentation for our environmental monitoring program. I am also a short walk from the Lilly Library and the Music Library. On Smith days I can walk over to collect environmental data, or consult with the librarians on East Campus if they have questions for Conservation.

But one of the best parts about working here is that I get a sneak peek at the materials headed to Conservation like this truck of music scores ready for pamphlet binding.

Music scores headed to Conservation for binding.

I also spied these three volumes of “Suave Mechanicals” ready for Conservation’s Official Reference collection in the lab. Our reference collection has grown over the years and has books on everything from coptic bindings to blueprints and electronic media.

Suave Mechanicals v. 4-6

Our very own Erin Hammeke has an essay in Suave Mechanicals v. 6. Erin, Chela Metzger from UCLA, and Alexander L. Ames from The Rosenbach, wrote an essay on the history of Anabaptist bookbindings titled “The Faith that Binds: Swiss Anabaptist Devotional Bookbindings in Early America.” I cannot wait to read this. The rest of volume 6 looks pretty darned good, too.

For more inside scoops on what happens at Smith Warehouse look no further than “Signal Boost,” the official blog of DUL Technical Services and Rubenstein Library’s blog “The Devil’s Tale.”

Taking a Break

Preservation Underground will be on hiatus until the new year. It is time to rest, recharge, and enjoy the season. We wish all of you a peaceful and healthy holiday, and a very happy new year. We will see you in 2021.

The beautiful view  from my cubicle at Smith Warehouse. I love these old tobacco buildings.

Mondays Are Hard Enough

You know the feeling when you get to work on a Monday intending to get stuff done because last week was one of those weeks? You get your tea, settle in, open your email…

library shelving under a ceiling leak
At least it was a slow drip.

So much for that morning to-do list…

books on a shelf with water dripping on them
Drip. Drip. Drip.

As disasters go we were lucky. This HVAC joint must have slow-dripped all weekend, or at least a portion of it. Some items were soaking wet, but most were damp or even dry.

Jovana sorting wet books
Jovana sorts the dry, damp, and very wet books.

We removed 157 books from the shelf for evaluation, 23 were wet or damp. We were able to set out 18 of these to air dry in the fume hood (remember the wiggle!). Five went into the freezer.

books drying in the fume hood
Books drying in the fume hood. A few went to the freezer.

The books in the fume hood were dry enough to put into the press on Tuesday. The items in the freezer will be monitored for the next few weeks. When they (and we) are ready to dry, we will get those done and back to the shelf.

Access and Delivery Services, Security and Facility Services, Stacks Maintenance and Retrieval, Duke Housekeeping, and Duke Facilities, all helped with this small water event. We appreciate having so many eyes and hands to help!

Happy 11th Birthday, Preservation Underground!

On this day in 2009 our blog was born! Looking back, we have accomplished quite a lot here over those 11 years. We are rapidly approaching our 500th post. It seemed fitting to celebrate by highlighting our eleven most popular stories or “quick pics” from the lab:

1. Working From Home Options for Conservation Labs

2. A Fleet of Futons–Yours for the Making

3. It Came From The Bowels

4. What a Difference a [Press] Makes

5. Cradle Boxing Day

6. Moving the Duke Family

7.  The ‘Largest Sheet of Paper Ever Made and Printed’

8. When It Rains On The Inside

9. 1091 Project: Making Enclosures

10. Letter Spacing on Labels

11. Hold Me Closer… Protective Enclosure

I was a bit surprised to see that three of the top posts are from this calendar year. With the disruption to everyone’s work over the last 9 months, it has been a little more challenging to keep to our usual publishing schedule. But with everyone spending more time at home these days, I guess that also means more folks are looking for something to read. Welcome to our new readers and a huge ‘thank you’ to long-time followers who have stuck with us! Here’s to another 11 years of preservation stories, coming to you from the library basement. Have a safe and restful holiday.

Peering Into the Unknown

Duke Libraries is not paid to advertise Onset products, we just really like them.

We all know how important a stable environment is for the long-term preservation of our collections. An environmental monitoring program is essential for collecting both short-term and long-trend data in critical areas of the library.

For many years now we have used Onset HOBO MX1101 dataloggers to monitor temperature and humidity conditions over long periods of time. These are bluetooth enabled, very accurate, and cost effective. We currently have about 30 of these monitors in a variety of locations around our library including our Exhibit Suite.

Meg installing HOBOs in the exhibit cases.

Last year we installed an Onset MX Gateway in the Exhibit Suite. This device allows us to look at data remotely from our desktop. It reads any HOBO within 100 feet of the Gateway, and uploads the data into the cloud. In fact, we get even more than 100 feet from our Gateway. It currently not only reads all the dataloggers in our exhibit suite, but three dataloggers outside the suite in the foyer, and three that are one level down in the Conservation and DPC labs.

Onset MX Gateway, MX1101 HOBO datalogger, and the Gateway interface.
Setting Up the Gateway and HOBO Dataloggers

The Gateway interface is fairly easy to use. If you set up your HOBOs correctly, assign them to groups, and are mindful of naming conventions, you can easily group related dataloggers together. This is helpful when you ask the Gateway to download reports.

A selection of HOBO dataloggers that can be seen by the Gateway.

Among the categories are Exhibit Cases (dataloggers inside the cases), Biddle Exhibit Suite (dataloggers in the various rooms in the suite), and the Labs (Conservation, Digital Production Center, and the Exhibits office). The Gateway allows you to set up dashboards to group similar dataloggers together.

A Portion of the Gateway dashboard for the Exhibit Suite. It turns out that the table the Perkins Lobby datalogger is attached to was moved and is now over a heating vent. We didn’t realize this until we logged into the dashboard. See how useful the Gateway is?
Expanding the Monitoring Program

This summer we are expanding our exhibit monitoring to include the Onset MX2202 LUX/Temp meters. These are going inside a few exhibit cases to monitor light levels (LUX) and temperature (F). We have a couple cases near internal windows, and several outside in the library foyer. Before we got the MX2202 monitors we could only do spot readings with our Elsec light meter. We can now understand what sort of cumulative light exposure these cases get throughout the year.

The Gateway dashboard for the MX2202 dataloggers.

Since the Gateway allows you to download the data into Excel, you can set up templates to do your data analysis. I’ve set up a template that includes the min/max/median/mode for both the LUX and temperature readings. The graph gives you a quick visual for the time period you requested in the Gateway report.

Draft analysis template for the LUX meters. The meter in the photo gallery cannot be reached by the Gateway, so we will have to download that datalogger individually and add the data to the spreadsheet for analysis. 

We have similar spreadsheets for the HOBOs in the Exhibit Suite that record temperature and relative humidity.  We download the environmental data by month, and look to see if any trends or concerns arise. The Gateway also allows you to look at the data in real time so we can view it weekly to catch any problems.

Look at those beautiful flat lines.

Until we installed the Gateway we had to go upstairs and download each HOBO individually with our phone or iPad. This is so much easier and more efficient.

7th International Mountmakers Forum

One of the silver linings of business travel being suspended for the foreseeable future is that so many conferences have gone virtual this year. This has provided a number of opportunities to experience the meetings of professional groups outside my usual repertoire. This week I’ve been really enjoying the International Mountmakers Forum. The organization has been very generous to record and upload the talks to Youtube.

Mounting objects for exhibition can be very challenging, and I have learned about new materials and techniques this week that could be used in the gallery spaces in our library.

The success of virtual conferencing during that pandemic gives me hope that this kind of programming will remain available, even when the world has returned to normal. Conferences are an essential fundraising opportunity for many professional organizations, and there can be financial disincentives for the organization in making content too freely available. At the same time, there are many professionals working in cultural heritage institutions or in private practice who do not have access to funding for professional development and are cut off from the debates and interactions that happen at these meetings. I’ve been very impressed with the way our professional organizations have adapted in the last year and I look forward to continued innovation and greater inclusion using these same systems in years to come.

Nothing to See Here

Mutilated books often come to Conservation for repair. We don’t normally like to talk about it, because no one wants to admit that it happens. It does, and it happens in almost every library. Luckily it doesn’t happen often. This week we had a book sent to us from the Stacks Maintenance unit. On the shelf it doesn’t look very damaged. The head is a bit torn, and it would normally go into the commercial binding workflow.

books on a shelf
Nothing to see here. Keep moving along.

The real problem was exposed when we opened the book. It was missing about 3/4 of the text block. All the pages had been cut out with what looks to be an X-acto or similar tool.

Book with missing pages
Ouch.

Before we did anything we needed information. We went to the stacks to look around. This book is shelved well above eye level on the top shelf. There were some paper fragments on the floor. We looked at the items around this one to see if other books were also vandalized but we didn’t find any further damage. Our next step was to ask some questions to determine if we could figure out what to do.

Putting on our Mr. Holmes hat

First we looked at the circulation record and determined that it had not circulated since 2013. That means the damage could have been done any time in the last seven years. More information was needed.

Next we talked to the Director of Security and Facilities to determine how often the stacks are swept, trying to figure out if this might be new damage or old. The stacks have been closed to patrons since March, it is unlikely that this was done during that time as our Security personnel are very good at their jobs.

We then talked to the Stacks Maintenance Supervisor. Amazingly one of their Student Assistants was working in that area and discovered the book was missing pages. The paper bits fell on the floor when she removed the book from the shelf. She took it back to Shelf Maintenance where staff looked at the item record. There were other copies available, and as we also noticed, they determined it hadn’t circulated in seven years. So they sent it to us for evaluation, which is the standard workflow for items like this.

What did we learn?

First, there is no way to determine if this was new or old damage. It is very unlikely that this was done in last nine months because of the Covid-19 lock down. This could have been on the shelf in this state for a very long time. There is just no way to definitively tell when this happened.

Finally, and most importantly, we learned that our system works. Our colleagues in Stacks Maintenance have a big job. Beyond re-shelving books they alert us to environmental issues such as leaking pipes, and they find damaged books when they are returned or at the shelf like this one. They are on the front lines when it comes to the preservation of our collections. We are so thankful for them and their student assistants.

What now?

Conservation routinely replaces missing pages. However, we normally cap that at ten pages per book. Beyond that number and we want Collection Development to review it, so we will send it to them for evaluation. Both Conservation and Stacks Maintenance will continue watching the area but we are fairly certain this is a singular incident.

With Disrespectful Love

Finding funny notes or inscriptions in books from the collection is such a delight. Rachel came across one this week in this book of poems that we just had to share.

Readers who are Brontë fans may recognize this as the first work by the sisters to ever go to print. They adopted masculine-sounding pseudonyms to avoid, as Charlotte later wrote, being “looked on with prejudice.” The starting letters of the first names correspond, with Charlotte writing as Currer Bell, Emily as Ellis, and Anne as Acton.

Moving the Duke Family

As readers may remember we had a painting at Lilly Library spontaneously fall off the wall this summer while we were all working from home. The painting’s hanging wire was very brittle and snapped. It’s difficult to say whether it snapped first then fell, or broke on the way down as it snagged on the hook. Regardless, we started worrying about the wires on the Duke Family Portraits that hung high above the reference desk, and whether those, too, were in danger of falling. After consultation with Lilly and library administration, we decided we needed to remove these before the semester began and before people were in the building again.

Needless to say this was not an easy endeavor. It took staff from Lilly, Conservation, LSC, Shipping and Receiving, Cataloging, and art handlers to make it happen. Here’s a visual play by play of the action. Click on the images for a larger view.

The first step was for our vendor to fabricate crates for each painting. Those were made and delivered to Lilly.

The “travel” crates have wood frames with corrugated coroplast sides to lighten the weight of the crates. Each painting ranges from 48″ wide to 73″ tall and 3″ deep. So every ounce counts with crates this size.

Next step was to get them off the wall and this required a small two-person lift. We had to temporarily remove the security gate to get it in through the front door.

Before crating we wanted to vacuum the decades of dust off the frames and paintings. While Rachel vacuumed, Peter and his crew kept removing paintings from the wall.

Next step was to attach coroplast backings and mounting hardware so we could screw them into place in the crates. It also gave us a chance at a closer look at the damage the frames have sustained over the years. Our decision to remove these now was confirmed when we saw that the eye screws in some were starting to pull out of the frames.

Next was to get them secured in the crates and labeled. We asked Cataloging to create stub records and assign barcodes for these so we could track their location in storage.

Once crated they were ready to move to the LSC. We had extra hands on site so that we could move them safely out of the building, down the ramp, and onto the truck. As four people moved the crates, one stayed with the truck to make sure the contents were secure.

These are now safely at LSC. One of the things we did right was to write the name of the portrait and the barcode on both ends of the crates just in case our lovely picture labels would not be visible when they were placed in the facility. Turns out that was a great idea because that is exactly what happened.

Moving these while the library closed proved to be a good decision. We had space to work safely and didn’t have to worry about working around staff or students.

The paintings will come back to Lilly Library eventually, once they’re able to be rehung safely and securely.

Photos courtesy Kelley Lawton, Rachel Penniman, and Beth Doyle. 

 

Duke University Libraries Preservation